Day 2 of NORML Conference: Focus on the States

In his keynote speech at the 41st annual NORML conference, Keith Stroup, NORML's founder, called for support for Washington's pending marijuana legalization ordinance, up for a vote on November 6 and criticized by some for disallowing home cultivation and for its DUI provisions. "Do we really want to see 50,000 more arrests for marijuana in the next four years in Washington?" he asked.

Stroup went further than other speakers who said marijuana could enhance experience like listening to music and eating good food. "Used in the right setting, marijuana can be an incredibly enriching experience," Stroup said to cheers from the crowd. "We need to say it's not 'not bad', it's good."

He ended with a quote from Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." Stroup added, "We need to return that freedom to tens of millions. Let's all do that."

NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre joked he hopes Stroup's coming autobiography will be published before Christmas, so we can all gift our family, friends and policy makers. He then introduced PBS travel host Rick Steves, who has put his money where his mouth is this year by generously donating to the legalization initiative in his home state of Washington.

"High is a place," said Steves. "This is in many senses a travel convention." Travel requires overcoming fear, he said, mentioning that he had been on the phone that morning with travelers who were fearful of entering Turkey because of Syria's actions there. "It's clear to me that fear is for people who don't get out very much," Steves said, adding that the flip side of fear in understanding, and "you get understanding when you travel."

Let's let reasonable people overcome their unreasonable fears, he said. Some seem to think there's a reservoir of people who want to ruin their lives with marijuana the minute it becomes legal, but experiments in Europe prove them wrong. Dutch kids smoke less than Americans, and hard drugs use is down in the Netherlands and in Portugal, which has decriminalized all drugs. Copenhagen has seen its first murders in years, he said, because of the clampdown on Christiana. The Dutch are renting empty prison space to the Belgians. Although the Netherlands now has a federal crackdown, as in LA, city officials are in favor of the coffeeshops because they reduce crime. "There is no correlation between strictness of the laws and consumption," he concluded.

Calling himself an "incrementalist," Steves said we must reform the law step by step. When alcohol prohibition ended, he said, first only beer was legal, and home brewing was not. Noting that we now have a President who home brews beer, "in a few years we could have a Victory Garden at the White House that would blow you away."

In Washington state, because it can't be shown that consumption would rise if their measure passes, and there has been no rise in DUI incidents since medical marijuana was legalized there, the opposition is "looking for excuses" to argue against it.

California Report
At a strategy session of California activists, CalNORML director Dale Gieringer said Ethan Nadlemann of Drug Policy Alliance announced during his speech that morning that DPA was interested in a serious legislation initiative in 2014 or 2016, if Colorado, Washington and Oregon are successful this year. Amanda Reiman, DPA's new policy manager from California, said "We have a keen eye on the other three, they will drive a lot." If even one of those legalization measures passes, it will be a game changer.

Gieringer said we still need a state bill to address the "anarchy" in the medical marijuana distribution business. Don Duncan of ASA agreed, saying our opponents will be back in Sacto next year with bad bills, and we need to be proactive. Hearings are not yet scheduled on Ammiano's AB2312, which has been withdrawn but still is slated for hearings in the Business and Professions committee, as early as November or as late as January.

Duncan said ASA will also be working on the initiative process city by city and county by county in 2013. Cynara Kidwel-Velazquez of PCA (Patient Care Association) reported on the successful efforts in 6 towns around San Diego to get medical marijuana dispensary ordinances on the ballot, four in November and two for later ballots. James Anthony, who was presented an award at the conference by Orange County NORML for his help with drafting a Santa Ana ordinance, said we can't cookie cutter language but we can start with a boilerplate. Ellen Komp, CalNORML deputy director, said we need to legitimize farmers as well as retailers. Patricia Smith of Nevada County said her region as a farm collective model that's different from an urban one, and that the federal "fickle finger of fate" had come down on her county as well as Yuba, Butte and Lake this year. Attorney Jeffrey Lake has pending challenges to the Nevada and Yuba ordinances. In Lake county, attorney Joe Elford won a stay on that cultivation ordinance.

Attorney J. David Nick spoke about the pending Riverside case, which "will be monolithic" if our side prevails, as Nick predicts: Every municipality in California would have to permit at least one medical marijuana collective. Nick's challenge to the Tehama County cultivation ordinance, supported by CalNORML, will have oral arguments on November 14 at the Third District in Sacramento. After that, unless the court calls for more briefs, they must render a decision within 90 days.

Lanny Swerdlow of Riverside county spoke about his Brownie Mary Democratic Club, urging others to form chapters in their areas, which everyone thought was a good idea.

Several representatives from the various initiatives that were filed this year in California were present, and Dan Rush of the UFCW announced that he and others had gotten together in Seattle at the Hempfest and pledged to agree on a "super initiative." Attorney Lauren Vasquez, the session's co-moderator, said that was great but we need input from everyone. She said the CalNORML conference on January 26 & 27 in San Francisco will be a place where that will happen. She urged all to send their input to her at fireduplawyer@gmail.com.

The NORML conference continues today with an NWA luncheon and an evening party to benefit CalNORML, NWA and OC NORML. See Agenda.